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Darnell L. Moore

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What If I Chose to Be Gay? Or, Why Herman Cain Might Be onto Something

Posted: 10/31/11 06:03 PM ET

So apparently Herman Cain thinks that a person can choose to be gay. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) seriously disagrees. HRC recently forwarded an e-news update with the following call to action spelled out in the subject line: "Tell Herman Cain pizza toppings are a choice -- being gay isn't."

HRC, and many other LGBTQ individuals and allies, took offense to the GOP presidential candidate's sentiments that he shared on ABC's The View, when he boldly declared, "You show me the science that says that it's not [a choice], and I could be persuaded. Right now it's my opinion against the opinion of others who feel differently. That's just a difference of opinion." But I am a self-identified queer (black) progressive man who thinks that Abel's Cain, for once, just might be onto something. Don't stone me too soon before hearing me out, however.

It seems that the "nature" argument, or, rather, the "people are born gay" argument, is the only basis for others' acceptance of LGBTQ folk and, for many of us, the only basis for acceptance of ourselves. As a result, we continue to regurgitate findings from scientific guilds to support our claims of "truth" regarding our worthiness and full humanity. For example, HRC's announcement, which sought to reprove Cain's "choice" theory, points to a number of sources to validate that one's gay essence is biological and not a result of external factors, like culture. Cited in the note are familiar names that have been associated, at various points within our recent history, with anti-homosexual and pro-homosexual propaganda, like the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association. As if the naming of those empirical giants were not enough, they went on to quote brief statements from the American Medical Association and American Counseling Association, all to prove and assert our worth as human beings who just happen to befriend, love, and/or sexually engage with others who might be of the same sex. Do we really need "science" as proof of our worth and justification for respect? Well, HRC and Cain apparently think so!

I affirm my LGBTQ brothers and sisters who name and claim their sexualities and expressions as part of their being. But I also want to push back against those who feel as if there is only one right (pun intended) way to think about our sexual selves. What if one's affinity towards, attraction to, desire to be intimate with, and/or love for another person of the same sex is a choice after all? What if we, including those of us who are LGBTQ-identified, considered what it might mean if we only relied on the nature argument to somehow prove that we aren't morally inept, sinful, hell-bound, deviant, lustful, and/or community-destroying bodies?

Ian F. Haney Lopez, the well-known critical race theorist and Professor of Law at UC Berkeley, argues in his now-classic essay, "The Social Construction of Race," that "[h]uman interaction rather than natural differentiation must be seen as the source and the continued basis for racial categorization." What does this have to do with debates on sexuality as a consequence of nature or nurture? Well, thinkers like Lopez, and others before and after him, offer a line of thinking that counters the notion of biological race and instead insists on the idea that race is a created social reality. Thinking of race as a byproduct of our own design rather than a thing that could be discovered through scientific (and racist) methods practiced by, say, 18th-century scientists like Petrus Camper, who used "craniometry" to develop a hierarchy of races (of course, blacks landed a bit higher than orangutans on that ladder), illuminates how the sciences have been used to substantiate the inferiority of some human beings in comparison to some others.

History is a great teacher; which is why it shouldn't be hard for many of us to imagine how the location of a presumed "gay gene" could become the proof of human being's slippery deviation from hereditary normality (heterosexuality) into genomic abnormality (homosexuality). I can definitely imagine the Cains of the world relying on empirical science to support that notion. All that to say: to hell with the need for "evidence" to make clear our right to exist as equals in the world.

But back to this idea of "choice": what is wrong with someone making a choice to love, have sex with, be attracted to, or befriend someone of the same sex? After thinking about this question, I considered what it might mean for us to move one's "choice" to love and be loved to the center of our politics. The denying of another's choice to love, kiss, hug, sleep with, hold hands with, or share a home with another person (of the same sex or not) is an aggressive move against another's right to the pursuit of happiness, especially when that choice does not bring harm to the persons or the communities in which they are part.

"Choice" is dangerous language because it reeks of a dangerous type of moralism, at least the kind that conservatives like to rely on to support their ideas of family and "right" relationship between humans and God. But progressives must name and offer new and varied definitions of "family," "friendship," and "relationship." We can be moral guards, as well, and proclaim that we have a right to make choices that sustain, lift up, and strengthen us, our families, and our communities.

I say we resist arguing with Cain, with supposed guards of America's "traditional values," with subjective science, and even the Bible. We need to begin the discussion at a different starting place, namely, a place that starts by focusing on our worth as human beings, for once. I propose that we tell Cain: I love to choose my pizza toppings and I hate when they are chosen for me.